Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week popped in to see his pals at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to assure them that the current administration loves the group a whole lot.
For those unfamiliar with it, ADF – originally known as Alliance Defense Fund – is the nation’s largest Religious Right legal group. Founded by a group of TV and radio preachers in 1993, its annual budget now exceeds $50 million.
The group is quite clear about its goals: to knock down the church-state wall, reverse LGBTQ rights, redefine religious freedom as a tool to take away the rights of others and merge its version of fundamentalist Christianity with public policy. If ADF has its way, we’ll all live under the reign of neo-Puritans.
Don’t believe me? Consider this: As recently as 2014, ADF’s website stated the following: “Alliance Defending Freedom seeks to recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries.” (I’ve often remarked that leaders and followers of the Religious Right want to take us back to 1950. Turns out I was off by about 1,500 years.)
In his address to ADF, Sessions noted that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated ADF a hate group. SPLC took this step based on ADF’s anti-LGBTQ agenda and its past statements. SPLC points out that it does not use the "hate group" designation simply because an organization has a moral objection to homosexuality; the organization under scrutiny must also demonize members of the LGBTQ community or seek to criminalize their behavior. SPLC argues that ADF meets this standard.
But Sessions assured ADF that it’s not a hate group and blasted SPLC, remarking, “They use it to bully and intimidate groups like yours which fight for the religious freedom, the civil rights and the constitutional rights of others.”
So is ADF a hate group? Well, some of the stuff it has put out hardly shows love for the LGBTQ community. In 2003, ADF’s former president and CEO Alan Sears coauthored a book titled The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today. The tome, produced by Broadman & Holman Publishers, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, sees a “gay agenda” everywhere. Sears asserted that the wacky 1959 comedy film “Some Like It Hot,” in which two musicians dress as women and join an all-female band to hide from mobsters, promotes cross-dressing. He also speculated that the popular cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants is gay. (Sears cited a Wall Street Journal article that noted that SpongeBob often holds hands with his friend Patrick, a pink starfish. I mean, what more evidence do you need?)
Sears no longer runs ADF. The group’s current president is Michael Farris, a homeschooling advocate and attorney. I’ve noticed that under Farris, ADF seems to be dialing back some of its more lurid anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. Rather than attack LGBTQ people directly, the group tries to make folk heroes out of bakers, florists and others who cite their fundamentalist religious beliefs in refusing to serve people they consider to be immoral, wicked or sinful.
So let’s look less at ADF’s words and consider how its actions might affect some of our fellow citizens. Like most Americans these days, I know members of the LGBTQ community. They’re my family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors and allies. And when I expand my social circle to include friends of friends and extended family members, the number only grows bigger.
ADF has fought assiduously to take away the rights of all of these people. ADF opposes marriage equality and fought it all the way to the Supreme Court. It defends for-profit business owners who want to tell LGBTQ people literally or metaphorically, “Get out – we don’t serve your kind here.” It argues on behalf of taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies that refuse to place children who need loving homes with same-sex couples. ADF is in court right now arguing to take away the rights of transgender people.
Think of someone you know who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, gender fluid, questioning, asexual, non-binary, etc. Maybe that person is a sibling, a cousin, a child, a best friend, a co-worker – or maybe it’s you. Think of that person and remember that if ADF has its way, he or she will lose crucial rights – the right to marry the person he/she loves, the right to walk into a shop and enjoy service like anyone else, the right to be treated with dignity and respect in public life and the right to access necessary medical care, among other things.
Think of that person being relegated to second-class citizenship. Consider the message that is being sent to him or her: There’s something wrong with you. You are a threat to our community’s values. You don’t deserve the same rights others take for granted. You are so vile that people should have a legal right to discriminate against you. Go away.
Consider all of that. ADF says it’s not hate. But honestly, I’m at a loss for what else to call it.